There are no “accidents” in Middle East politics. This week’s assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister, Pierre Gemayel can only be understood in the context of the ongoing struggle between the competing political forces in the region. Presently, the United States is the big loser in this regard due to its failed campaign in Iraq. The war has severely damaged the perception of US military invincibility and triggered a stunning rejection of Bush’s policies in the in the midterm elections. Now, the political paradigm in America has shifted and a phased withdrawal of American troops could begin in a matter of months. Needless to say, this is not the outcome that the hawks in Washington or Tel Aviv had in mind.
Could the assassination of Gemayel be an attempt to forestall the impending withdrawal of American forces?
America’s effort in Iraq has failed miserably. It has created a security vacuum that is now being filled by armed-militias and resistance movements. The Middle East hasn’t been this volatile since 1948. It has descended into a semi-permanent state of flux in which all the main players are battling for a greater share of regional power. The assassination of Gemayel is just another chapter in this regrettable power struggle. It puts Lebanon squarely in the gun sights of regional rivals and increases the probability of another civil war.
On one level, it appears as though Israel is the only country that benefits from a destabilized Lebanon. In fact, the assassination could be seen as an extension of the 34-Day War that killed 1,300 Lebanese nationals and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. From Tel Aviv’s perspective, a chaotic Lebanon weakens “Iran ’s western flank,” Hezbollah, and strengthens Israel’s goal of reshaping the region to meet its long-term ambitions. (“Iran’s western flank” is a euphemism from an Israeli think tank.)
Most of the political pundits in the Arab media seem to believe that Israel was behind Gemayel’s murder. Here is a small sampling of some of their quotes, which appeared in the BBC.
This is from Al-Quds, Al-Arabi:
“Those who planned and carried out this assassination were targeting Syria as much as Lebanon. Indeed they were targeting the entire Arab region. Syria is the one that is most harmed by this repugnant crime. The destruction of Lebanon is in the interest of Israel, which would like to see the Lebanese resistance busy with internal wars and Syria exhausted.”
Or this from Al Ba’th, Syria:
“The New Middle East is a US-Israeli project, the product of US aggression and the Israeli war on Lebanon. Political assassinations are near at hand and criminal practices and killings pave the way for sedition. This sedition leads to chaos and it is chaos which allows the realization of the project.”
Or this from Al-Jumhuriyah, Eqypt:
“The wave of mysterious crimes sweeping Lebanon since the assassination of its former prime minister is clearly aimed at immersing the country, or indeed, the entire region, in a crisis that will allow foreign powers to interfere especially given they have already been acting in the Lebanese area.”
Or this from Jomhuri-Ye Eslami, Iran:
“The political tension in Lebanon entered a new phase following the assassination of the industry minister. Undoubtedly this assassination was planned and carried out by the Zionist regime because the Zionists stand to gain the most from it.”
While there is no solid proof that implicates Israel in the killing, it is difficult to see how Syria could have been involved.
What would Syria’s motive be? Do they have a twisted desire to be ostracized by the US and the international community?
Of course not. So what’s the motive?
Syria’s foreign minister was in Baghdad at the time of the assassination patching up relations with Iraq after a 25-year hiatus. By restoring ties with Baghdad, Bashar al Assad hoped to show Washington that he could be a reliable partner in stabilizing Iraq and in promoting regional security.
Are we to believe that al-Assad is such a madman that he would stick a thumb in Bush’s eye just as he is making amends?
Al-Assad has no secret “death-wish”! He has been trying desperately to escape Washington ’s crosshairs for five years. He certainly wouldn’t throw away all the good faith he had earned with his diplomatic mission to Baghdad just to kill an insignificant politician in Lebanon.
That simply didn’t happen.
So, who benefits from greater antagonism between Washington and Damascus? Who gains from the continuing bloodshed in Iraq?
Prime Minister Olmert helped answer this question just a few days ago when he said:
“I know that (Bush’s) policies are controversial in America. [But] I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein so much better for the safety and security of Israel . . . Thank God for the determination and leadership of George Bush”. (Reuters)
So the war in Iraq is “better for the safety and security of Israel”?
Now that the US is facing the most spectacular military defeat in its history, it’s easy to forget that some people are pleased with the results. If that’s the case, then the assassination of Gemayel might be a clever way of keeping the US in Iraq even though most Americans want to leave immediately. After all, if a decimated and Balkanized Iraq is “better for the safety and security of Israel,” then what difference does it make if more American lives are spent to achieve that end?
The war has been costly and destructive for American interests and its continuation will only further polarize the American public, alienate America’s traditional allies, enrage Muslims around the world, and further decimate Iraqi society.
By any standard, the Iraq war has been a dead loss for Americans and Iraqis alike and, although the Bush administration is fully responsible for its choice to invade, Israel’s attempts to shackle the US to a losing policy and force a greater commitment of troops and resources is opportunistic and cynical.
The Gemayel assassination suggests that the plan to remake the Middle East is moving forward and foreign agents are using “positive instability” as a means of subverting national sovereignty in Lebanon.
The ideologues in the Olmert government and their neocon-counterparts in Washington imagine a Muslim world that is buried under twisted iron and rubble from Gaza to Afghanistan, from Syria to Iran. They believe that Israel’s dominance depends on its ability to topple rival regimes and splinter their states into smaller less threatening units. This may explain why Olmert sees a positive value in the sectarian bloodbath that now envelops Iraq.
Imagine the entire Middle East subsumed by this dark and anarchic vision?
Who Killed Pierre Gemayel?
The execution of Gemayel was carried out by a nation that accepts targeted assassination as a viable form of foreign policy. This point needs no clarification; we all know who fits that description.
The assassination was swift and professional, the dispassionate implementation of a political agenda which requires ever-increasing volumes of blood.
The killing was quickly followed by the predictable avalanche of absurd theories connecting Syria to the incident. As always, the New York Times led the charge with three equally biased reports that were designed to strengthen the radical, anti-Muslim agenda of far-right fanatics. Despite the damage to its credibility in the lead up to the war, (when the Times featured blatantly false claims about Iraq’s fictional WMD in a series of front page articles) the Times continues to be the main vehicle for spreading the disinformation promoting US foreign policy objectives. Today’s headline, “Beirut Throngs Mourn Slain Minister and Revile Syria ” is another abysmal example of the Times role as chief propaganda-organ for the Pentagon and Tel Aviv.
Still, the spurious claims emerging from America’s flagship newspaper will have little effect of the facts on the ground. Rather than “reshaping” the Middle East according to its imperial aspirations, most critics believe that Bush has done irreversible harm to America’s national interests and is steadily being muscled out of the region by the Iran. That is why Baker and his coterie of “realists” have inserted themselves in the process to try and salvage what they can from Bush’s ruinous policy debacle in Iraq. Unfortunately, Gemayel’s assassination undermines Baker’s efforts to tone-down the violence and create a suitable environment for negotiation.
Was that merely a coincidence?
For now, the advocates of “creative destruction” (Cheney, Olmert and the neocons) still have the upper hand and have “checkmated” Baker’s (forthcoming) attempts to withdraw from Iraq. But, what about Bush? Where does Bush stand on Gemayel’s assassination?
It’s interesting that Bush immediately issued a statement pointing the finger at Syria even though no evidence was available. This shows that Bush is still very much in the Cheney Camp and is following the disruptive, war-mongering script produced by the neocons. James Baker has been working feverishly to open diplomatic channels with Syria and Iran so that he can extricate the US from Iraq. Gemayel’s assassination is a major setback for Baker’s plans and could put an end to the talk about negotiations.
Was that the plan, to sabotage Baker’s efforts to withdraw the troops?
There is a very real possibility that the fighting in Iraq will spread beyond the borders and swallow up the entire Middle East. The long-term effects of this on the oil-dependent world as well as the suffering it will cause to Iraqi civilians are incalculable. But, even if the violence does not broaden or intensify, “America’s moment in the Middle East is about to end.” That is the opinion of The Daily Star’s Hisham Melhem.
“The United States is boxed in Iraq, its friends are on the defensive, and Iran is on the ascendancy . . . We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of Lebanon’s long traditional liberal western orientation, and this vision of Lebanon to be replaced by an Iranian vision.” (We may see) “Beirut will turn into Tehran on the Mediterranean, and create a culture of resistance -- to put Lebanon in a permanent mode of confrontation with the United States, the West and Israel.”
Then Melhem adds ominously:
“You want to engage the Syrians in Lebanon bilaterally? Fine, but the Syrian price is going to be high. They want to regain their previous hegemony over Lebanon, and Lebanon to them is more important than the Golan. In the case of Iran, they want recognition of their regional stature as the influential power here, as well as the nuclear file.” (Jim Lehrer News Hour)
The inevitable shift in regional power is something that wiser men would have considered before initiating a “war of choice.” Nevertheless, it is one of the many unintended consequences of Bush’s ruinous strategy in Iraq. The emerging paradigm is easy to see for those who are not completely blinded by ideological claptrap. The US may persist with its foolish saber rattling against Iran and Syria, and continue its savage attacks on Iraqi society, but the handwriting is already on the wall. The days of “regime change” and “spreading democracy” are rapidly drawing to a close.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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